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Speech by SLW at 14th Graduation Ceremony of HKU SPACE Community College (English only)

     Following is the speech by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, at the 14th Graduation Ceremony of the HKU SPACE Community College today (December 1):

Professor William Lee (Director, HKU SPACE), Professor Chan Lung-sang (Deputy Director and College Principal), Professor Cheng (College Principal Emeritus and Special Advisor, Professor K F Cheng), Dr Dorothy Chan (Deputy Director (Administration and Resources)), Dr John Cribbin (Deputy Director (Academic Services)), Professor Chan Wing-wah (Deputy Director (Arts and Sciences)), distinguished guests, graduates, parents, ladies and gentlemen,

     It gives me great pleasure to join the 14th Graduation Ceremony of the HKU SPACE Community College and share the joy of our aspiring young graduates. Let me first congratulate all graduates on your success and the HKU SPACE Community College for its sterling contribution and dedication in providing quality higher education for so many of our young people over the years and preparing them for further academic pursuit or the world of work.

     Young people are the leaders of tomorrow and the future of our society. This is not a clichˆm. In fact, this is particularly true and important for Hong Kong, where human resources are our real asset. This explains why the current-term Government attaches great importance to the whole-person development of each and every young person. Through promoting lifelong education, nurturing a culture of multi-faceted excellence and facilitating upward social mobility, the Hong Kong SAR Government aims at building an environment whereby our young people can develop their potential to the full.

     In the current financial year, education spending alone accounts for a significant 22 per cent ($71.4 billion) of the Government's annual recurrent expenditure and represents the lion's share of all policy areas. To enhance the employability and overall competitiveness of different sectors of the local workforce, the Government injected $15 billion into the Employees Retraining Fund in early 2014 to finance the long-term operation of the Employees Retraining Board (ERB). We have also allocated $1 billion to provide long-term support for the development of the Qualifications Framework, which seeks to promote lifelong learning and skills upgrading. These figures speak volumes about our commitment in investing in our next generation.

     Young people will come to play an increasingly prominent role in all aspects of Hong Kong's development because our population is fast ageing and our workforce will be dwindling. In the face of this double challenge, people talent, Hong Kong's single most valuable resource, will become more important than ever.

     Hong Kong is at the threshold of a large demographic shift as the post-war generation of baby boomers starts to retire. Improvements in health and falling fertility rates also add to our rapidly ageing population. The life expectancy at birth in Hong Kong is currently 81.2 years for males and 86.9 years for females, almost the highest in the world. According to the latest population projections, these figures will rise to 87 years for males and 92.5 years for females by 2064, in 50 years' time. There were 1.06 million people aged 65 or above in Hong Kong in 2014, meaning one out of seven Hong Kong residents is a senior citizen. These figures will rise to a high of 2.52 million in 2044 and 2.58 million in 2064, translating into a ratio of one in three.

     Based on the latest labour force projections, Hong Kong's total labour force (excluding foreign domestic helpers who add up to 340 000 now) is projected to increase slightly from 3.60 million in 2014 to 3.65 million in 2018, and then taper off to 3.43 million in 2031. The labour force is then projected to hover between 3.42 million and 3.43 million until 2038 before dwindling to a low of 3.11 million in 2064. In other words, the labour force will shrink by half a million in 50 years. As a result, the overall labour force participation rate (i.e. the proportion of the labour force in the population aged 15 and over) is projected to fall from 59.3 per cent in 2014 to 48.6 per cent in 2064.

     These statistics are rather stark and tell us that for Hong Kong to remain a competitive and vibrant international economy, every child, every student and every youngster must be properly nurtured, carefully groomed, fully equipped and given ample room to develop and thrive. We cannot and must not leave anyone behind. In fact, we cannot afford to do so as every one of them counts.

     I have often been invited to share my experience and thoughts with students on the subject of life and career planning. I have consistently pointed out that there are immense potential and opportunities for career development in some fields which our young people may not be fully aware of. These sectors can be summed up by the abbreviation "ABC". "A" stands for aviation and airport, "B" stands for building services and "C" stands for care, including health, community and elderly care.

     Let me first deal with "A". Hong Kong's airport island at Chek Lap Kok currently provides direct employment for 65 000 people. Of these, 65 per cent are in skilled jobs and 14 per cent are in professional jobs covering a wide range. If the proposed three-runway system takes off within the next decade, and I am optimistic that it would materialise in the end, the number of direct jobs at Chek Lap Kok would double, and the number of indirect and ancillary jobs will increase to 165 000.

     Turning to "B", as building services, many of Hong Kong's infrastructural projects are in progress and will gather momentum in the years ahead, and given our ambitious housing programme, both public or private, our building and related industries also offer plenty of job and career opportunities across the full spectrum both in the front line and in the back office. Using the third runway project as an example, a total of 139 000 man-years (i.e. one person employed full-time for one year) of jobs could be created during the construction period of the runway. In short, Hong Kong is entering a golden era of building boom with good employment prospects.

     Finally, "C" - care. I mentioned earlier that Hong Kong is fast ageing. Our ageing population will lead to demand for different kinds of health care, community and institutional services and homes for the elderly growing by leaps and bounds. For the financially better off senior citizens, there will be a growing silver-hair market with substantial demand for leisure, pleasure, investment and insurance services. It is noteworthy that the Government's recurrent spending on social security, welfare and medical services for our senior citizens for the current financial year is expected to reach a high of $62 billion, representing 19.1 per cent of government total recurrent expenditure for the year. Apart from "ABC", there are, of course, our traditional economic pillars including business and financial services, tourism and logistics, which need fresh blood all the time. With China fast becoming a world-class economic powerhouse, there are considerable opportunities beyond Hong Kong's shores. The "Belt and Road" initiative would generate more business and career opportunities, and Hong Kong is well placed to play the role of a "super-connector" in all these. To seize these opportunities, youngsters must be prepared to take a wider vision and gain more international exposure. After all, Hong Kong is part of the global economy and a key player in the world economy.

     Our young people will therefore have a whole range of options open to them. To succeed, they must fully equip themselves in the first place. They must be prepared for hard work; ready to embrace, not shy away from challenges; willing to step out of their comfort zone; have an open mind and a strong sense of modesty; and most important of all, strive to make the best of any situation and engage in continuing education and learning in order to move up both the career and social ladders.

     For one thing, there is no short cut to paradise. Always remember that hard work and perseverance will certainly pay good dividends.

     To sum up, Hong Kong's future is in your hands. Your future is in your hands. I am confident that you will all rise to the challenge, contribute to Hong Kong's long-term development and ensure that Hong Kong will forge ahead as Asia's world city and a good place in which to live and do business.

     Thank you.

Ends/Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Issued at HKT 17:59


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